Bicycles, Pedestrian Experience, South Bay, VTA

Bridges Tame the Valley’s Freeway-Laden Landscape

Mary Avenue bridge
Mary Avenue Bridge; courtesy of LERA.

So many freeways and expressways crisscross the auto-oriented sprawl of Silicon Valley, and they contribute to a physical environment that is inhospitable, forming actual and pyschological barriers to those who attempt to get around on foot or a bicycle. But pedestrians and bicyclists alike will be able to enjoy bridges that will provide additional routes of access over otherwise-impenetrable walls of freeway. Two new bridges at Borregas Avenue in Sunnyvale, crossing over both Highway 237 and Highway 101, have finally opened, and they will allow an anticipated 2,000 daily bicyclists and pedestrians to cross over the freeway instead of traveling a couple miles out of their way to the nearest through street. The spans will also ease access to Sunnyvale Baylands Park and the nearby Borregas VTA light rail station. Then, on April 30, a more visually impressive bike-ped crossing over Interstate 280 will also open, connecting the two separated halves of Mary Avenue, between Sunnyvale and Cupertino near the Highway 85 interchange. The Mary Avenue bridge will be the first example in California of a cable stayed bridge crossing over a freeway. Still further bike-ped improvements are due later this summer in Mountain View, Santa Clara, and San Jose. The Borregas corridor and Mary Avenue bridges are just two components of VTA’s rather extensive 25-year Bicycle Expenditure Plan, which represents a considerable investment in livable streets improvements scattered throughout Santa Clara County. Yours truly may prefer walking and transit over bicycling, but we nonetheless look forward to the day when San Francisco’s Bicycle Plan will have completed its wandering journey through environmental review — so that new bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco can catch up to these improvements in the South Bay.



6 thoughts on “Bridges Tame the Valley’s Freeway-Laden Landscape

  1. I did a little project where I ran a loop around the entire Bay, staying mostly in the hills – except for Silicon Valley, where I cut straight across from Milpitas through Sunnyvale. The experience of running 20 miles through the jumbled sprawl of the Valley was not good, especially because of the freeway barriers everywhere.

    Except from my blog post RE the San Jose leg of the run:
    “The next two runs were horrible – that is to say, through San Jose and its suburbs, if indeed San Jose isn’t itself a suburb, as it seems to be, in some horrible residential analogy to distributed processing. After the Mediterranean scrub oaks and redwood forests I’d been through, 13 miles of Sunnyvale office parks made me think I was in a new ring of Hell that Dante had left out for being just too awful, even compared to burning ash and stinging flies.” Okay, so maybe I was exaggerating a little. But you get the point.

    Posted by Mike Caton | 24 April 2009, 4:22 pm
  2. That’s a cool project, Mike! You’re right, San Jose and its surroundings are really something else. The density of single family homes might be similar to what you see in some Peninsula cities, but the street layout and lack of orientation to a rail corridor — and as you mentioned, the office park syndrome — are big obstacles standing in the way of a more livable South Bay. The Bicycle Expenditure Plan is pretty extensive, but the South Bay also needs more improvement in this respect than maybe any other part of the Bay Area.

    Posted by Eric | 24 April 2009, 4:31 pm
  3. Great that these are being built! I commuted from southern Sunnyvale to Northern for years, and getting over 101 and 237 was the bane of my existence. The article doesn’t mention that the nearest streets that actually go across the freeways (Mathilda and Fair Oaks) are fast collector roads with narrow outside lanes and no bike lanes. (Well, there’s a lane on the Fair Oaks 101 overcrossing itself; that’s as good as you get.) You have to go even further out of the way to cross the freeways calmly; some options take you nearly as far east as Santa Clara or as far west as Mountain View. This is a fantastic improvement.

    Regarding getting from Milpitas through the valley, there are clever ways to do it (via a trailway along 237 that switches from one side to the other; called the “unemployment trail” in the early 2000s), but there are a lot of bad ways to go and the good ways aren’t always obvious. Still less rough than how things are in NYC where I live now. :-0

    Posted by Matt H | 26 April 2009, 8:07 pm
  4. The Mary Ave. cable-stayed bridge is very striking; if I hadn’t been on family errands I might have already gone for a look…and found it still under construction. Google maps also reveal Borregas Ave. bridges to be an interesting link, making it one of the few routes to cross 101 and 237 unencumbered by cloverleaf interchanges.

    Creekside trails in Santa Clara County solve a lot of tight spots with engineering bravado – the Stevens Creek Trail bridge over Caltrain and Central Expressway, and some of the street underpasses suspended over Los Gatos Creek, are examples of gaps that might have been better avoided 30-40 years ago by leaving a real trail corridor in the first place, but with things as they are, the gaps are stitched together with engineering bravado. There’s room for more of that, especially for counties that see bike infrastructure halfways equal to car infrastructure.

    Posted by Ben Pease | 28 April 2009, 3:04 pm


  1. Pingback: Streetsblog » DOT Secy Wants “Sustained Engagement” from Bike Advocates - 23 April 2009

  2. Pingback: Streetsblog » DOT Secy Wants “Sustained Engagement” from Bike Advocates - 23 April 2009

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